Om:cast 008 - Jazzanova (The Alex Barck Special)
Jazzanova, there is always a lot to account for. "All the time, we have to explain to people what the sense in all of this is“, says Alexander Barck, one of the DJs of Jazzanova, with an ironic grin on his face. „Sometimes it’s funny to us, because we never think of it that way. We love music, we listen to a lot of music – old, new – and we like to make music. And that’s just it: A playful interaction with it.”
This may sound plausible, but it actually is a huge understatement, because this club collective of six belongs among a small, worldwide group of innovators, when it comes to Dancefloor, NuJazz, Broken Beat, to modern Folk und Soul. Around the globe, DJs and vinyl freaks adore Jazzanova. Their remixes for Masters At Work, Fat Freddys Drop, 4Hero or
Ursula Rucker are gems. But the six guys from Berlin have also enjoyed the feat of treating the most different of source material with respect and to simultaneously give it an unmistakable Jazzanova sound signature for such diverse artists as Lenny Kravitz, Common, Azymuth or Calexico.
Their mentor Gilles Peterson, the British Top A&R, radio personality and founder of the label Talkin Loud, immediately recognized their talent and, shortly after their first release, contacted the guys about doing a remix for the Japanese ‘United Future Organization’. Soon after, Jazzanova were booked solid for years to come and conquered the dancefloors of the world and their listener’s hearts with their own productions and remixes.
The ability to bring together different styles and their enormous effort and input into research and the ability to put to work all possibilities, is not only widely respected throughout the international music community, but also constantly drives themselves to be a step ahead. At the same time, their music is truly authentic and works just as well at the Montreux Jazz festival as in the illegal basement club of your girlfriend’s cousin“, as Cornelius Tittel, arts & culture editor of the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” writes. Whereas other producers have eight different pseudonyms, all working on one and the same stylistic groove, the six Berliners are always „Jazzanova“ – coming up with an honorable, otherworldly, unpredictable mix of styles at all times.
“Calculation never plays a part in this process“, emphasizes Stefan Leisering. It is simply not interesting to Jazzanova, in which current genre correlation the music with which they are dealing at the moment is seen, what its inherent hipness factor may be. The journey, the development is the reward. Their idea of fun is „passing along many stations, while searching for the “perfect” sound, and letting the people witness that process.”
“Our music can take people along on a trip“, says Alexander Barck. "When we succeed in fascinating people with this music, when we get people who, let’s say, don’t like Brazilian music – or at least think they don’t – to dance to a Brazil track, when they say: "I never heard this before, but now it’s my favorite music” – those are the important and beautiful moments in a production or a DJ Set.”
This enthusiasm, this self-assured impartiality, paired with a professional ethic, is immediately and audibly obvious on Jazzanova’s second and brandnew studioalbum “Of All The Things”. It is immediately apparent that Jazzanova once again worked with a lot of different voices, most of them male.
Leon Ware (a true soul legend and the writer/producer of Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You”) sings a cover of one of his own hits from 1982 – together with Dwele (a young soul star from Detroit, who also works with Common and Kanye West).
Together with Phonte (MC of the US HipHop band Little Brother), Jazzanova get back to their HipHop roots.
The singers Paul Randolph from Detroit, Ben Westbeech from London, and José James from Minneapolis – Ben and José having recently released their debuts on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Label – ,as well as Dallas of New Zealand’s megastars Fat Freddys Drop round out the impressive guestlist.
“The fact that there came to be so many men singing on this album, more or less happened by chance,” says Claas Brieler, “but everything just sounds right.”
The list of musicians who were recorded for this album is so vast and extensive, that it is impossible to recount here. Just think that Jazzanova have most likely traveled around the globe roughly eighty times during the last few years and have maybe brought back one musician from each of their travels.
“To us it is the composition, the planning of the songs and the production of the instrumentals that makes up the album, this interconnected work, in the beginning. When we start to work with the voices we select them systematically and place them in exactly the way they fit our vision. We include them like elements into our picture. This overall picture is the album. A whole, connected story, and just like the instrumentation and the styles are different, the singers are different as well. But that is us – and one can always hear the connection”, says Axel Reinemer.
There is a lot to hear, sense, and feel while listening to this music. The music has a lot of soul, and is lively and deep at the same time. Jazzanova use this album to express their musical vision through songs. Having followed their path closely, one will know that their interest in songs as opposed to dancefloor-oriented productions has continuously grown and that the songs on “Of All The Things” are only a logical consequence of this development. Their first album, the genre classic “In Between” (2002) had already put the sample and beat specialists on a new stage of higher ambitions. More recently, their musical production for the theatrical revue “Belle et Fou” in 2006 was a sure sign that Jazzanova had a lot in store and high goals for their next album.
Songs and substantial recordings of instruments were planned. In terms of production, what they delivered with “Of All The Things” in the end surpasses everything that was to be expected, even the high standards they previously set themselves. A set-up like this would have most likely pleased Frank Sinatra or James Brown as well. For “Let Me Show Ya” alone, they recorded twelve string players, many other instruments and a background choir of eight. “The background choir is not so loud in the mix, but you feel its power and that’s why we made this extra effort”, says Axel Reinemer.
All of this has led to a big, international sound; there is a lot of music going on! Throughout the whole album Jazzanova work with a lot of ideas, sound structures and levels. The beats are programmed, but almost everything else was recorded live. On “In Between” they still worked with numerous vinyl samples to create their sound vision – now it is all done with real musicians and original recordings.
“Our approach is different today“, says Axel Reinemer. „In the past we used a lot of samples to create our own sound worlds. We still follow the same path – even when we were sampling it always had a lot of Soul. But today we create our sound worlds by recording musicians and their instruments. We are more flexible and it is easier to produce our songs with these original recordings of real instruments. We have more freedom, because samples always dictated strict harmonic surroundings.”
“But samples also have many great qualities”, says Claas Brieler, „like that special sound from another era with completely different equipment, for instance. But the live recordings enable us to produce far better arrangements for us and our songs. Having said that, it can and will always be interesting to work with samples and we have done it occasionally on this album as well.”
“We are leaning more and more to producing our own samples,” says Jürgen von Knoblauch. "We took apart the sound world of “Let Me Show Ya”, sampled ourselves and thus created “So Far From Home” with Phonte. Especially the ending was originally designed – already during the composition, arrangement and the recording process – so that we would be able to sample it in the end. As a sample, we could easily adapt it to our needs, as we of course had access to all parts – separately.” In the end – and Jazzanova weren’t Jazzanova if it wasn’t like this – all thus created versions and parts were once again taken apart and put back together like a puzzle. That was a painstaking and extremely time consuming process. "We tore down the boundaries by working this way,” says Stefan Leisering. "Our goal was: Maximal not minimal.”
In contrast to earlier efforts, all recordings and productions were done on a lot of analogue equipment. "Of course we use a lot of digital equipment, but the sound we look for can mostly be found with analogue equipment“, says Axel Reinemer. And to that end Jazzanova love to put a few tons of vintage mixing boards and tape machines in their studio, all of them having been obtained from far and wide.
Their effort and input is enormous, but in all of it you hear the fun, with which this distinctive music must have been made. It is a true pleasure to go along with it, when those full harmonies meet silky strings and voices on luscious beats and basses. They have succeeded in composing songs that are as intoxicating as their well versed arrangements and many- layered levels are exciting.
“DJs and producers are usually rather anonymous, not recognizable as artists.” And a personal touch, a distinguishing individuality, is pretty important nowadays, considering the flood of material that reaches the listener week after week.
Asked whether or not they think that they’ve finally grown up after all these successful years and maybe want to retreat a bit from the life in clubs, they choose to unanimously ask a counter question: What do you mean by club music? “We still see us in a club context, because we thoroughly enjoy that“, says Alexander Barck. “But our next goal is to be able to put our music and this album on stage – with a band, with real musicians.” Plus, of course, the songsof this album do work in clubs. “Soul and HipHop are music to dance to“, says Stefan Leisering. “Obviously, “Little Bird” is not a club song, but we never intended to make a dance album.”
“When you write your own songs, you come up with a larger repertoire. Recording with live instruments from the start was the important next step.”